Love With A Capital L

A journey towards living an inspired life of love in the modern world

Expanding/Contracting — October 7, 2021

Expanding/Contracting

This week on the People’s Court, there was yet another dog bite case. If it wasn’t for dog bites and security deposits, there wouldn’t be enough material for a 10 minute short, much less 25+ years of daily episodes. Anyway, in this one, a Rottweiler got out of the house and chewed up a cut little mixed breed. The owner of the Rottweiler was caught on video days later with another of her dogs on a walk off leash, and when questioned, she responded with the ridiculous, “It’s my personal choice.” So, the judge reprimanded her, explaining that it wasn’t, that there are leash laws in almost every town & city in America, and that in a society, your personal choice has limits. After every case, the litigants speak with Doug in the hallway, where she again said that her personal choice would still be to not leash her dogs.

We’re starting there, but I don’t want to talk about leash laws or this woman’s boundless arrogance. What I do want to talk about is – we’ll get there in a second.

This morning, I watched another documentary on the Google/Facebook illuminati. It’s funny, I don’t watch any horror programming, giving exactly none of my time to anything scary. (The new Dr Strange movie is being called Marvel’s 1st horror-ish offering, and that will be an interesting conundrum for me when it is released. Which immovable object will be rolled aside?) Yet I continue to gobble up these documentaries, terrified at the level of control humongous tech companies have.

They watch and listen and know everything; our waist size, our favorite food, eye color, who we voted for, and when the last time was that we flossed. When her family begins to talk about tracking devices in vaccines and conspiracy theories, the Angel always correctly points out that nobody needs conspiracies or chips, they already know us better than we know ourselves.

Each of the documentaries ends with an appeal to get us to delete our accounts, which we, of course, never do. Facebook was down for several dark, hopeless hours this week and we wandered aimlessly through abandoned streets in withdrawal without seeing filtered pictures of food and the photoshopped perfect lives of people we haven’t seen in 20 years. They want us to not “Google” anything, not use our Gmail or Chrome, or scroll TikTok. Ha!!!

Now, here’s what I want to talk about, and why Zuckerberg reminds me of that unlikable woman on the People’s Court. There’s a concept in ancient wisdom traditions called Zimzum where God contracts Himself (or Herself, if you prefer) to make room for creation, for trees and oranges and you and me. We do that, too, anytime we enter into a relationship. We make space in our lives, schedules, hearts for another’s lives, schedules, hearts. We stop being only me and become us. Ideally we’re not so selfish and allow for the cares of somebody else.

We contract. We put limits on our freedom or “personal choice” or what we want. We put a leash on our dog. We don’t so that they can. We give and receive. I don’t date other women, as is my right or choice or whatever, because I have made space for the Angel in my life. I don’t delete my accounts because these products add value to my life. I like to email, I like that Amazon Music knows just what new songs I’ll like, I like that when I search for watch bands, I’ll get 1,000 ads for watch bands on Instagram. We make these choices everyday.

But this woman is only concerned with expanding, only concerned with herself and her “personal choice.” I don’t like that I can’t mow my grass at 6am, I don’t like that she can’t leave her dog off leash if she wants, I don’t like that Google most of the time gives me what it wants to give me or that it knows where I am and why 24 hours a day.

Contract or expand? It’s different and dynamic for each of us. What we choose today might not be our choice tomorrow.

I think my point is that we choose with intention. After watching these films, the real problem seems to me that we are unaware of this expanding/contracting decision. It’s vital we know there’s a choice to be made. We can give & receive OR we can leave our dogs off leash, so what about you, your dog or what either of you think. But if we can’t see the paths in front of us, then we’re simply being herded into the nearest enclosure based on algorithms and apathy.

We just get this 1 life and it’s way too short to not pay attention. It’s also way too precious to spend it selfishly. So, let’s make room for each other, love someone, and put a leash on our dogs.

What It Sounds Like — October 4, 2021

What It Sounds Like

I am now 46, safely passing Wednesday without much disruption. I’ve been waiting for a mid-life crisis that never seems to come. Maybe next year.

This morning, as I walked on the treadmill, I half-watched the news on one of the overhead screens. (Is there really nowhere I can be free from media??) The first story was a guy in the highest position of leadership in this country passionately detailing coming vaccination mandates and the importance of such a mandate. And the second story I saw was that same guy, with exactly the same passion, commenting on last weekend’s gatherings in support of a woman’s right to her own body. He was quite indignant that, yes, of course we should have the right to do what we want with our bodies without any government involvement. After all, why would those people have the power to dictate what happens in each citizen’s own body? Why, indeed.

I recognize that there are probably many many reasons why these 2 topics are wildly different and to push a mandate on my body while arguing against a mandate on my body is totally consistent. But there are two things about that.

First, it’d be supercool if there was some sort of admission that, on the surface, it does at least sound like the positions might be in conflict with the other. Instead of ignoring the superficial similarities, pretending that we haven’t simply changed the words like political musical chairs. It’s interesting that one party can say my body, my choice AND forced vaccines for everybody while the other can fight just as strongly to keep your needles away from my body AND the ability to control what goes on with another’s pregnancy. Both borrow the main argument of protecting the vulnerable when it suits.

Second, and faaaar more important, is the very clear illustration that these issues are deeper and more complex than can accurately be conveyed in sound bites, sandwich boards, and shouted cliches. The fact that both sides of the aisle can argue the very same point about where & when the rights to our own bodies begin & end should give us a level of understanding & compassion that would allow authentic human discussion. You would think that “protecting the vulnerable” could/would translate into common ground, giving the impression that we might not be as far apart as we previously believed.

Again, I know I’m not the brightest man on earth and you might have a thousand ways to condescend to my elementary analogy here. (But you don’t have to.) I don’t want us to argue anymore, to shout our certainly valid points (whichever ones we are tightly holding) at each other anymore, but I do want to start talking. I do want us to sit down at tables and listen instead of continuing this silly propensity of ours to feed our insatiable need to win at all costs. I do want to find some consistency in a shared humanity. I do want to acknowledge that the divisions we’ve been sold might not be quite so wide.

After all, we can all agree on Tiger King and that’s something.

Fixing — March 9, 2021

Fixing

There is a documentary on Netflix called “How To Fix A Drug Scandal.” Like all Netflix documentaries, it’s great – well made and endlessly fascinating. It’s about 2 women in 2 different Massachusetts drug labs who, in different ways, cheated the system and cost thousands (thousands!!!) of people their freedom. Now, maybe those people were guilty and maybe they weren’t, but they certainly were treated unfairly by a group of federal & state employees concerned with ease, comfortability and their own positions of power. It was gross. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

There is something important I learned in it, though, that I do wish to talk about.

I lost a buddy to a drug addiction last month, and it was heartbreaking. Addiction is heartbreaking. 1 of the women tasked with testing the drugs seized in arrests turned out to be a very serious drug addict herself. She was an over-achiever throughout school, valedictorian of her high school class, extraordinary athlete, college degree, great job. At that great job, she became a user. How did that happen? I used to think drug addicts looked a certain way or followed a certain template, but I was wrong. They look just like me.

I know 2 attorneys that are awesome. Outside of the 2 of them, I have to admit that attorneys have historically held a poor reputation in my head. It’s not a reputation that is set in stone or anything, but nonetheless poor. The narrative had gone that defense attorneys are the morally bankrupt ambulance- and fame-chasers, who will do and say anything. I know that’s harsh, but this opinion has sadly been reinforced over years of perceived example. The defense attorneys in this doc may actually be morally bankrupt ambulance- and fame-chasers, but as they explained their call, it sounded noble and beautiful. Their behavior sure was noble and beautiful. By the end, I wanted to become a defense attorney. I wonder if those years of “perceived example” were just that, perceptions based on easy generalizations and lazy cliche.

This reminds me of the story of Jonah in the Bible. All of the characters who are supposed to be the good guys, aren’t, and the characters who are not, are. It’s jarring and confusing. The prosecutors are elected officials who should be wearing white hats while keeping us safe from the villains. Except, they’re the ones unfairly meting out a perverted mis-representation of “justice” to those unlucky enough to cross their desks. It becomes more and more difficult to know who is trustworthy. And as that ground shifts, our anxiety grows.

I guess I have usually wanted to understand which end is up, who is ‘us’ and who is ‘them,’ who is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong.’ The problem is, as we discover, there is no us and them, just us. I could be the prosecutors or the drug addicts. Another problem is that an honest faith journey includes an endless process of watching ideas (set in stone, absolutely figured out and under control) that we believed, no, that we knew, spectacularly annihilated. Those idea that are exposed as much too small and fit into very inadequate boxes.

It seems to me that we’re made (and when I say we, I mean all things) for expansion and these boxes we create out of our fears lead to contraction, where it’s not only the boxes that are tiny and restricting, it’s our lives. We’re faced with a choice, hold on with white knuckles to a fading paradigm or release it to become something closer to truth.

It’s nice, being wrong so often. I don’t really need boxes anyway.

Azkaban — November 10, 2020

Azkaban

A guy I used to work with once cornered me and began a shockingly intense and impassioned attack on the Harry Potter book series. He railed against the magical and, as he saw it, demonic framework of the story, that it was impossible for a Christian to read and enjoy the books. As a Christian who very much enjoyed the books, I asked if he had read them, actually read them. As you can guess, his answer was an indignant “NO! I would NEVER read such a thing!” Then how could you have such a strong opinion based solely on something somebody said? He shook his finger while he scolded me and stormed away.

I tell you this story for 2 reasons.

First, I like to make this space about what kind of pop culture art I am consuming. These works of art are usually documentaries, but I haven’t taken the time to watch much of anything, much less the documentary on the Nxivm cult I have been wanting to catch. Instead, what I do watch is football and whatever my family wants to watch on weekend evenings, which is the Harry Potter series. I had read all of the books, but had not seen all of the movies until Saturday.

Second, that guy was wrong.

Maybe you know that I’m a pastor of a church. But maybe you don’t. I am. AND I love the Harry Potter series. Demonic witchcraft and wizardry was the category box for that guy. I see so much more, but the problem is, if you choose to see the much more, then it doesn’t fit very neatly into any box at all. We like boxes. We like things we understand. The world is all too often chaotic and messy, which makes us frightened and anxious, so we are constantly trying to make sense of anything at all. General myopia can shrink what we experience into bite size pieces that are not too threatening, giving us the illusion of control.

The story uses magic as the context, but it’s really a story about these characters and worth and calling and loyalty and and and. And by the way, the first recorded people to bring gifts to honor and adore Jesus Christ were magicians. But this is good and evil and courage and purpose and selflessness and and and. This is ultimately a story, a series of books & movies about love.

I think building all kinds of walls to keep the scary things out more often end up keeping us in. These walls become prisons, like our own personal Azkaban. We’re building boxes to reinforce our need for control, our need to understand, to have the answers, to eliminate mystery and the unknown. The boxes we’re building are essentially altars to ourselves, and as far as things that run counter to God, idolatry is number 1 with a bullet.

Maybe I don’t have to have all of the answers. Maybe being sure isn’t the point. Maybe that’s what faith is, right?

Dilemma — September 22, 2020

Dilemma

I am in the middle of The Social Dilemma, another deeply disturbing Netflix documentary on the manipulation of each and every one of us by our devices, or to be more accurate, by our social media. Our devices are simply plastic rectangles, not villainous beings bent on our destruction. I guess social media isn’t exactly bent on our destruction, either, it/they just want our thoughts, money and behavior. Our destruction wouldn’t further those goals.

However, it might depend on what your idea of destruction is.

The dilemma for me is easy to spot, Amazon Prime Music Unlimited releases a “My Discovery Mix” every Monday based on a similar personal information algorithm that knows me (or at least the virtual “me” if there’s a difference) and what I will like. I don’t know these songs and have usually never heard of these artists. As a long-time music snob, that pains me to say, but the truth is that this dastardly algorithm is mostly always right, I DO like it and my life is better with these songs in it.

Last night I looked up Kanye 2020 t-shirts and am absolutely positive that when I open Facebook today to see if anyone “liked” the video I posted yesterday, thus validating my worth and value as a human being, I’ll see ads for Kanye and his political “Birthday Party.” Maybe I’ll order from one of those ads. I don’t even have to search anymore, the advertisers will bring the options to me from now on.

I have a degree in marketing and advertising. The point is to convince the consumer that he/she/we are lacking something, that he/she/we are incomplete without this cleaning product, pair of jeans, or newest vegan hamburger. THE POINT is to affirm our deepest fear, that we are not enough. So we buy their widget in great faith and discover we are still missing something vital to our lives. The cycle repeats endlessly, keeping everyone in business. The industry of self-destruction.

So, am I cool to be used, my strings pulled like a mindless marionette, in exchange for the convenience of Kanye 2020 t-shirts and new songs? I’m going to make my family watch this film because they have been born into the matrix and have some decisions to make. Maybe they’ll continue on the path of progress, but they’ll have to mindfully choose to do so with all of the information. If my spouse is abusive, I can stay or I can go, but all of our cards have to be on the table. There will be no more feigning surprise and outrage.

Yes, Facebook is selling us. “If you’re not paying for the product, you ARE the product.” We can decide if that price is too high for the benefit, but we can no longer pretend to be unwitting marks.

I love to see pictures of my family and cat memes and People Are Awesome compilations. I love to hate the comment threads on our local school district’s parents group page. Maybe that’s enough. Who knows? But I’ll decide. Or maybe I just think I’ll be deciding and will instead be walking the path Mark Zuckerberg has paved for me. I wonder if I even know the difference anymore.

But I haven’t finished it yet. Maybe it has a happy ending.

The Politics Of Pandemics — April 6, 2020

The Politics Of Pandemics

The coronavirus, COVID-19, has upended every aspect of our world and our lives. The worst-case scenario of 100,000 deaths in this country alone was floated last week, prior to new stay-at-home orders and new recommendations to wear masks anytime we leave our homes. By the time I post this, it’s entirely possible that the numbers and regulations will have changed. So much about this virus is unknown and, in a world that worships knowledge and control, the utter lack of knowledge and control might be the biggest attack on our way of life.

Now. Smoking-related deaths number almost 500,000/year, obesity kills over 300,000/year, and nearly 100,000 due to alcohol. Almost a million Americans die from these big three, and they are advertised everywhere as a privilege, a right, a reward. Why are they not seen as, at the very least, equally destructive pandemics? As killers? Why are we confined to our homes, isolated, for COVID-19, while alcohol (a substance that takes the same amount of lives every year, not to mention the broken marriages, families, relationships, and lives it leaves behind) is considered a life-sustaining enterprise and sold in grocery stores???

(I understand the dangers of the horror of withdrawal that necessitate the ‘life-sustaining’ designation, but I also understand many illegal drugs carry the same danger…Should drug-dealers be considered ‘life-sustaining?’ I know I know, I’m told they’re different, but it’s really only different because 1 is illegal and the other isn’t, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out why.)

Of course I have an agenda with alcohol and the entire system of self-destruction that willfully turns their head while they line their pockets. It’s filthy and offensive to allow cigarettes and alcohol in every convenience store while regulating the time and reason we are allowed to come out of our homes, because for heaven’s sakes, we all need to be protected and cared for!!! The hypocrisy is stunning and revolting. Maybe we would all be back at work and school and sporting events and concerts if this virus had the same public relations/lobbyists, the same deep pockets as tobacco and alcohol.

Now, I am not at all advocating for the stay-at-home order to be lifted and we go back to business as usual. I’ll stay here for as long as they tell me to and wear my mask to pick up my milk and toilet paper. But maybe we should stop pretending our motives are selfless and altruistic, a nation of loving big brothers who care only for our collective well-being, and instead call it all what it is: business.

More On Releasing Everything — February 14, 2020

More On Releasing Everything

I might call this The Tension of Trying (and Failing) to Know What To Release.

What I have been being taught for the last 44 years and that I am beginning to actually learn is that I (or you or Barack Obama or Donald Trump or Tony Robbins or anybody) has practically zero real influence on anyone else. You might think you see something that is not, um, let’s use the parlance of the day and say: “living my best life,” and want something different, better for me.

Now, let’s for a minute say that you’re right. Let’s put aside all of the ways we try to fix or fit each other into the boxes that make us comfortable without a clue as to what might be good or healthy or desirable for the other, ok? You’re right, the thing you see IS in fact causing me to not live my best life. Now what? In all likelihood, I don’t care. Not even a little.

Nearly without exception, we gravitate to the people and ideas with which we agree. This is why Fox News, MSNBC, Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher exist and have such wide audiences. Not a soul on the right watches Maher and no leftist would be caught dead listening to Limbaugh. The things that make the deepest impressions are those that we already believe shared in a fresh manner, with clever words and phrases.

People will do what people will do. I will change only if and when I am good and ready to change, or when God stops me on the road to Damascus and transforms me. We don’t change each other. Then why we do this dance of buying the delusion that we can “speak into” another’s life? Of course it’s pride, like everything else, but whose?

Is it yours, for thinking it is your place to point me down the right path? For thinking you know the right path? Isn’t that arrogant and more than a little self-righteous?

Or is it mine, for not listening to what may be wisdom? For not being open to new (often opposing and wildly uncomfortable) ideas and concepts? For protecting my current paradigm against all foreign attack?

Both. So now what?

First and foremost, I guess we focus on becoming the kind of people who listen to the externals, sifting the wisdom from the agenda-driven narcissism, and evaluating it honestly. And we release the rest. We don’t just throw Sgt. Pepper’s in the garbage because it doesn’t sound like Help! We look for the truth and adopt it. We aren’t really supposed to dig deep ruts to plant our feet and stay the same forever. We shed the constricting old skins, instead wearing coverings of perpetual growth.

But as far as getting our observations, advice or best intentions all over anyone else? As far as asking them to focus on that same growth? We probably release that.

But isn’t it natural and, yes, loving to want lives of peace and joy for others? What if your experience might be valuable? What if you have a heart that beats for others and you are well aware that the biggest blind spot is our own mirror? What if you simply want to help?

I don’t know. This is the “tension” of the title. On a cynical day, I’d say nobody cares what you think. On an optimistic day – which I believe is accurate – that mantra changes to almost nobody cares what you think. If we are becoming the people who listen and grow, how else would we be exposed to fresh new perspectives that change our own? Maybe we have to try, at some point. But what about all of the relationship wreckage that will surely litter our lives?

What about that??? Is it worth it?

See? Tension. We are asked to hold most things with 2 hands, rarely is anything purely black and white, no matter how much we want them to be. No matter how much we want a guidebook that will enter data and receive the correct answer.

Sometimes sure, it is worth it. Others, no way. And sometimes the yes and no are for precisely the same reason: because the relationship is that important.

Maybe this is why my lesson on Release is taking soooooooo long.

Fighting — October 22, 2019

Fighting

I am sitting at my dining room table. This is unusual because I usually sit in the living room in a super-soft and cozy reclining chair that was given to me. I’m here because we have a fish tank in here, so I’m facing that direction watching the colors of the light fade into one other, wanting to write this post but having NO IDEA what to write. Incidentally, there aren’t any fish in this tank. Just 2 snails.

Staring at the tank, through the water, I can see a 4×6 index card I have on my mirror. I have 2. 1 has a quote from a Mark Steele book, Half-Life/Die Already I think: “I don’t know what’s coming. But I know it will not be too much.” The one I’m interested in today has a Bible verse, Nehemiah 4:14 (I mistakenly wrote 5:14): “Remember the LORD, who is great and awesome, and fight for your friends, your family, and your homes.” On my mind this morning – and last night as I lay awake, unable to sleep – is the fight I had with my boys and it’s consequences.

I don’t care what the fight was about, to tell you the truth, except to remember that they lost their video games for 2 days (!!??!!) and to follow through on that ban.

What happened afterwards is what I care about. I live my life in such a way that, if you and I have a disagreement, no matter how heated it may get, when it’s over, it’s over. You see, when I was growing up, I had a dad who would withhold himself from me in anger and/or disappointment. There would be days and weeks where he would silently ignore me until he didn’t, and then we could go back to normal. It was crushing and never failed to thoroughly break my heart. So, in all of my other relationships, I promised that we would never so carelessly waste precious moments like that. Early in our marriage, Angel and I would argue and she would attempt to escape to…well, who knows why she would try to escape? Possibly to stop the escalating tension and gather thoughts, a count-to-10 situation. But what I do know is that those attempts would be unsuccessful. Because my dad did this kind of thing and we are waaaaay too important to miss. We are such valuable gifts. He was, too, (especially to me), but I didn’t have a say then. Now I do. So we would fight and then the fights would be over and we could hold each other’s hands and give each other smooches again.

Yesterday, the boys got in trouble and, minutes later, I wanted to show something to Samuel. Whatever it was was cool and interesting, I’m sure, but that something was also to display that we were still in love. It has recently been pointed out to me that I stand in certain places and move in certain ways as to initiate physical contact. Probably, that’s true. AND HE MOVED AWAY FROM ME, just an inch or 2, just enough so we were not touching.

He was mad or sulking or whatever and wanted to wound me, and he did. But at what cost? I’ve been teaching one thing their whole lives; that we do not withhold ourselves from others to manipulate or control. Well, 2 things; that we can argue and that’s ok – our love is unconditional.

Now, I’m mad and sulking and whatever. Mostly sad. I’ve failed as a parent blah blah blah. That my dad is gone and I miss him like crazy, and now my boys and I are going to miss each other forever. You know how these thoughts pile up, like a terrible avalanche of sadness and loss.

And here’s Nehemiah. What does it mean to fight for my friends, my family, and my home? Sigh. I guess it means to take my tears and wounded-ness and plow through his rebellion. Because he’s 14 and I’m right – this is not always the case, but in this one, it FOR SURE is. We are waaaaay too important, and some things are worth fighting for. I may have to chase him around like I did (and sometimes do) with my wife, but this story is going to end with big bear hugs and a tidal wave of smooches on his cheeks that he only pretends to hate.

I didn’t know what it meant to fight for my dad and those sweet moments that were gone too soon, but maybe in fighting for these, now, we are all fighting to reclaim those, too.

Rest 2019 — January 1, 2019

Rest 2019

I know resolutions don’t usually work, so I won’t be making one.

What I will do, on the other hand, is use this time to look back, reflect, consider what, who and where I’ve been while giving some attention as to where I’d like to go, who I’d like to be. As the Cheshire Cat said, “if you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter what path you take,” (or something like that. You get the point.)

I choose a focus word every year and for several years it has been some variation on letting go, releasing. This year it’s rest. What I mean by that is not that I am super busy and working myself to death. In fact, if you saw my life – routine, schedule, etc – you’d rudely laugh at my word. Instead, my study has led me to a belief that ‘rest’ is essentially synonymous with ‘trust.’ Can we trust enough to stop, to cease, to be unproductive? It’s a hard question. And where it gets tough for me is; can I trust enough to release you? You see, I create (these posts, sermons, a book you’d just love, my life, and on and on) and the important thing about creating is that you do it, right? The second most important thing is that you’re honest – that the work comes from a place of authenticity, and it’s very difficult to do that if my concern is if somebody else likes it, if it’s valuable to him or her, if it elicits some form of positive response. Those things are not for me to decide, and once they supersede the simple beauty of the offering, then they stop being honest and turn into pandering, needy drivel. And there’s enough of that, isn’t there?

I faithfully give everything I have to the work, and then offer it up, and where it goes from there is anyone’s guess. The second ‘where it goes’ becomes the point, the offering is ego-driven and selfish, and the ‘offering’ drifts into control, and that’s gross. The big question is, will I trust enough to release my grip on expectations and control?

The truth is, I don’t know. I hope so. I know I’ll sleep better if I do. But today is January 1 and I’ll try to rest/trust today – I’m doing ok so far – and then I’ll try again tomorrow. Happy New Year!